This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Welcome to our writing advice column, where you'll find bestselling author Julie Cohen answering reader questions! Hit a roadblock or have a writing-related query? Drop them in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org and keep your eyes peeled for Julie’s response in later columns. This week, Julie talks pen names.
Would you recommend using pen names if you want to write in different genres? I am trying to get my historical fiction published right now, but I’ve been working on a very lighthearted rom-com that I’d like to self-publish on the side. I don’t want the rom-com to affect my chances though.
First off: good for you! It’s great that you are trying different genres. Some people say that you should concentrate only on one ‘brand’ when you’re starting out, and really refine your voice and skills. And this is good professional advice.
But there is also, I think, a lot to be said for experimentation. Writing different things can sometimes keep your writing fresh, and keep you interested as an author.
Before I was published, I really did concentrate on just one type of story, trying to learn the ins and outs of my chosen genre. But since I’ve been a published author, I’ve had fun with writing different things, mostly for my own pleasure, but sometimes for publication.
You know, it’s a hard truth that most of the time, writing is a really difficult job, and most the time, it doesn’t earn you very much money. You really might as well enjoy yourself as much as you can.
I do think that your instincts are right about choosing a pen name. An agent and a publisher will want your writing to have its own recognizable brand, which means they will want your name to be associated with a particular genre. Look at all of the big-name authors who have taken on pen names to switch genres: JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, and my personal favourite, Iain Banks/Iain M Banks. Most of the authors I know write under more than one name. (I’ve got several, myself.) There are a few brand-name authors who can write different genres under the same name – Stephen King and Kate Atkinson spring to mind – but in general, it’s received wisdom that publishers would like you to keep things separate.So yes: it’s probably wisest to seek mainstream publication for your historical fiction under a different name from your self-published rom-com. If your self-published novel does well and sells lots of copies, you could mention it in your cover letter for your historical novel, if you wanted to. Or, if you preferred not to muddy the water, you could keep it to yourself.
Once you have signed with an agent, they will most likely want to know about everything you’re doing and all of the projects you have on the go. But you don’t have to include it all in your agent submissions, if you think it’s clearer just to concentrate on seeking representation for one type of book, initially.
Picking a pen name can be quite liberating, actually. It’s fun to be someone else. I like to wear a mysterious hat and shocking lipstick when I’m being one of my pen names. Here’s wishing you the best of luck with yours!
Julie Cohen has had 20 books published under her own name and pseudonyms, selling nearly a million copies and being translated into 15 languages. Several have won or been shortlisted for awards, including the Romantic Novelists' Association's Award and the National Readers’ Choice Award. Her novel Dear Thing was a summer 2014 Richard and Judy Book Club pick.
Julie is also a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, tutoring courses for Penguin Random House Academy, The Guardian, Literature Wales, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and Writers' Workshop. She runs a fiction consultancy business, with several of her clients having gone on to publication. Her latest book is Where Love Lies.